This melanoma survivor is sharing her story and her scars to encourage others to take care of themselves.
A huge trend that just won’t quit is the popularity of tanning salons and the need for people to wear a “healthy glow” in the form of darkened skin, especially in the summer. The fad has been going on for years now, with no sign of it stopping anytime soon, despite numerous warnings of the dangers of going being exposed to UV radiation so often.
While the necessity for wearing sunscreen has been pushed a little more in mainstream media, there are still way too few people wearing it every day to protect themselves. So although this mom of 2 and survivor of an aggressive form of melanoma has always consistently worn sunscreen, Bethany Gambardella-Greenway has a message for everyone in need of encouragement to take skin damage seriously.
Bethany’s battle all began in 2015, when she was pregnant with her second child and noticed a dark patch that was forming on her face. She initially thought it was the hormones coming into play, and when she eventually got it checked out she was told by a dermatologist that it was just a liver spot. The stay-at-home mom, who used to think she had “angel-kissed skin” didn’t return to the doctor until about 18 months later, after a painful mole surfaced within the dark patch. Doctors conducted a biopsy and determined that Bethany had a form of skin cancer called desmoplastic melanoma.
The 38-year-old was completely taken aback by her diagnosis; her own mother had melanoma at around Bethany’s same age. However, Bethany was still shocked at the amount of treatments she would need in the next few months and the extent to which they harmed her.
“The radiation was absolutely the worst part. It was hell plain and simple,” she said. “It fried the inside of my mouth. My throat was so sore. My skin was covered in sores, I lost my ability to taste food, my voice was hoarse, at about week three my hair began to fall out on the treated area. By the time I was done with treatment I had lost about forty pounds because eating had become such a miserable chore. Now I am almost completely healed from the radiation which permanently damaged one saliva gland and altered my hairline.”
Bethany wound up needing to get the skin from that area removed as well as the muscles underneath because the cancer had spread by the time she had her first surgery. Upon further inspection, she was also forced to undergo immunotherapy and radiation after doctors determined that the cancer had spread to her bones and lymph nodes.
In an online, public album on Facebook, she has documented her journey called “Melanoma photo diary,” in which she shared everything from the effects of treatments to rejoicing in childless days visiting the doctors to suddenly needing her appendix removed right after finishing her treatment. Doctors have now given Bethany the all-clear and she is reveling in her healing time and discovering new makeup methods to cover her scar.
Though Bethany has never visited a tanning salon and has always worn sunscreen, mostly because she knew of her mother’s medical history, she is using her story as inspiration for those who still have regular tanning sessions or refuse to wear sunscreen every day.
“Please stop sun bathing and going to tanning salons. A tan isn’t a healthy glow — it’s damaged skin,” she said.